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Many contemporary instructions on women's modesty (tznius) say that necklines have to be high enough to cover the collarbones.

I can certainly accept that if this is the communal standard, it should be upheld; or that it makes a good guideline to avoid problems of "well exactly where below the collarbone is too low."

But other than that, is there an original halachic source for it? Do we know what the first source was to have stated "collarbones?" (Is it called עצם הבריח or עצם הצוואר)

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Modesty- An Adornment for Life, Rabbi Pesach Eliyahu Falk (pages: 269-270) modestworld.com/laws.asp#c, –  Baby Seal Mar 7 at 19:54
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Mixed reviews about sources... amazon.com/Modesty-Adornment-Pesach-Eliyahu-Falk/dp/0873068742 –  Baby Seal Mar 7 at 19:54

4 Answers 4

up vote 3 down vote accepted

Halichos Bas Yisrael 4:4 (note 6) cites Mishnah Berurah 75:2 as saying this, although I haven't found it there (he just says that "her face and hands, whatever is normally exposed according to local custom," are not considered ervah as far as a man saying Shema). HBY also references Kuntres Malbushey Nashim, but I don't have that to see what he says.

One possibility: we find that halachah considers the neck area (in an animal) to extend downwards until the upper lobes of the lungs (Shulchan Aruch, Yoreh De'ah 20:1). Since in a person this point is demarcated by the collarbone (see image here), that may be a reason to use that as the dividing line between the neck (about which there's no statutory source requiring it to be covered) and the body.


Edit - looks like my facts in the second paragraph above are wrong - normal human lungs apparently extend some distance beyond the collarbone (as in this image of a chest x-ray). Shulchan Aruch there does say that the dividing line (for the laws of shechitah) is how far the lungs extend "when the animal stretches out its neck to graze," so maybe for tznius too, the same principle would operate - we'd have to know where the upper lobes of the lungs are when a person extends his or her neck. I guess we'd need to ask an M.D.

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Surely some mi.yodeya users must be M.D.s/anatomists! I hope they speak up. –  WAF Nov 30 '10 at 17:43
    
Does this ("her face and hands, whatever is normally exposed according to local custom," are not considered ervah) apply to Shema only, or also other prayers and brachot? –  SAH Jun 10 '12 at 20:31
    
@SAH: seems that it applies across the board - Shulchan Aruch, Orach Chaim 90:26 states that the same rules apply to Shema and to prayer. –  Alex Jun 10 '12 at 23:44

I suspect the original source is the requirement that after rending a sotah's garments, the garment must be tied "above her breasts" so that she is not exposed. I'm not sure, but this may mean at or above the collarbone which is about where the breasts begin to slope.

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Hello Binyomin, and welcome to Judaism.SE! Thank you for the interesting speculation. Consider registering your account to reap all the benefits of asking, answering, and commenting. –  WAF Jun 5 '11 at 15:50
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interesting idea; I hadn't thought of the relevance of that case to the topic at hand. I just wonder, though: as a practical matter, would they be able to tie the rope there without immobilizing her arms? I always understood "above her breasts" to mean "under her armpits" - leaving her shoulders (i.e., some distance below the collarbone) exposed. –  Alex Jun 5 '11 at 16:19

The Kaf Hachayim Siman 75:3 interprets the Tiferes Shmuel on the Rosh in Brochos as decrying collars which are open "until close to her breasts".

I imagine it would also have to be mentioned in Otzar Haposkim on Even Hoezer siman 115 concerning Das Yisroel, but I don't have one to look it up.

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But on the contrary, Tiferes Shmuel is saying that women who "have their collar open almost until their breasts" is a "bad custom." So that doesn't tell us how far he says it can be open. –  Alex Apr 9 '12 at 17:33
    
@Alex: I agree it does not define how far it may be opened, however, it is a starting point because we have not yet found any definition for even above the breasts. Also, I would like to add that I would assume that from the Gemara & Rashi Gitin 90 (very top of Amud 2) it would seem that the skin between the neck and the armpits has to be covered. Also please see Ba'eir heitev on Orach Chayim 2:1 that he says in the name of the Baiis Yoseif that (even) a man has to cover his Chozeh/chest (without definnig exactly where the Chozeh starts). –  Meir Zirkind Apr 10 '12 at 4:10
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@MeirZirkind The Rashi you cited refers only to her sides, from my understanding. Where are you getting all around from, or above the armpits? –  Baby Seal Mar 2 at 16:48
    
@Alex Are you sure that's what he means? He says: ודבר שרגיל להיות מכוסה באשה וכו': פי' לאפוקי מה שדרך נשים להיות מגולה כגון הפנים והצואר וידים אבל נראה בעיני במיקל שרגילות הנשים לגלות זרועותיהם ורגילין להיות פתוח עד סמוך לדדיה זהו מנהג רע וקורא אני בהם חקים לא טובים וטפח באשה ערוה. He's talking about sleeves that are so short they risk exposing the breast from the side. –  Double AA Apr 8 at 5:33
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Ahhh most peculiar. The Kaf haChayim seems to have had a different version of the Tiferet Shemuel than we do. –  Double AA Apr 8 at 5:39

I asked my Rebbi this question, and he was unsure of a definitive source.

The Mishnah on Sotah 7b, (orig.) implies that actual cleavage (and below) is issue, as the Mishnah says, after tearing the Sotah's garment, to tie a rope "above her breasts". Rashi explains "so that her clothing not fall to the ground", implying that it would be unseemly to have her exposed from that point downward. Maimonides is more clear, (Hil' Sotah 3:9), saying "that her clothes not fall to the ground, leaving her naked".

Another area of the chest is mentioned in the Mishnah as well on 7a, (original), called "her heart". The Sages say to uncover that and to loose her hair, but Rabbi Judah asserts that "If her heart was beautiful, he would not uncover. If her hair was beautiful, he would not loose." On 8a, (orig.), this argument is examined, and there is a unanimous concern of arousal from this area.

So there is an area of a woman's chest1 that is deemed provocative, called her heart, that is above her breasts. A stringent, machmir interpretation of that passage would understand that area to start at the top of the chest, with the collarbone2 3.


1. I felt I could reasonably assume that the Sages are referring to the front of the woman's chest due to use of the word heart, which leads us there as opposed to the chin, neck, or sides.

2. Even without a formal source, 'communal standards' have halachic bearing.Ketuboth 72a, (original), penalizes a woman with forfeiture of her prenuptial agreement for transgressing 'Das Yehudis', laws of a Jewish woman. The mishnah gives details of this, listing specific outfits and behaviors. Rashi adds that D"Y comprises "that which the daughters of Israel customarily did, even though they aren't written [in verse]". D"Y thus takes on a broader scope, depending upon community standard, within the parameters of the Mishnah. Maimonides on D"Y, (Hil' Ishus 24:11): "And what is Das Yehudis? They are customs of modesty practiced by the daughters of Israel... Maimonides also adds a general framework of D"Y, to the specifics of the Mishnah. Shulhan Arukh Eben Haezer 115 takes an identical stance. So general customs become halacha, concerning modesty. So regardless of the source, in communities that adopt a certain practice, it is halacha.

3. The collar bone is clearly not a black and white, be-all-end-all line. the Sages aren't explicit about what area of the chest they mean, the Rishonim tell us that in general it really depends, and her heart is not listed as absolute D"Y. This could explain the discrepancy from community to community, as far as this area of dress. Also, The Tur, (ibid), does not give an explanatory preface, and just lists the Mishnah's items and explains. He does mention toward the end of this section that the prenuptial agreement was only intended for modest women, and not for the licentious, but that is much less conclusive than Rashi or Maimonides, though one could still draw similar conclusions.

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I appreciate your effort but I just can't say that this answers the question which sought: "is there an original halachic source for it? Do we know what the first source was to have stated 'collarbones?' (Is it called עצם הבריח or עצם הצוואר)" and the bounty which sought precise boundaries of the area. You have not shown the original source that stated collarbone, found the Hebrew used there, or offered strong textual basis for your boundaries, the definition of which can hardly be called precise. –  Double AA Mar 5 at 23:54
    
Furthermore, your answer can't really be "no there is no such law as 'collarbone'" thereby rejecting an assumption of the question, because a) there are books and people who do claim the collarbone is of relevance and the question was asked according to them, and b) such negative claims ("there is no such statement in Jewish literature") need to be based in an argument from authority, which you don't really have on the internet. –  Double AA Mar 5 at 23:57
    
The lack of upvotes from the OP and other users confirms my feeling. This is why I couldn't get myself to award you the bounty points. But I do appreciate your efforts. You have certainly convinced me to take absolute claims about necklines with a little more suspicion than I used to. –  Double AA Mar 6 at 0:01
    
@DoubleAA definitely fell short of halacha. This more in line with the talmud that talks about the pissuk raglaim, (which i can confirm from my Rebbi is the source against pants that are manufactured for women but are tight enough to see that area.) That's really why I sourced it at all, btw! I personally think its is Das Yehudis, where it applies, above and beyond all else. Thanks for your critiques. The answer, if still defficient, is better for them, certainly. –  Baby Seal Mar 7 at 20:02

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